Short Fiction

‘Will They Remember Us?’ Little Ignaz Wonders by Antony Osgood

‘Will they come this morning?’

The boy cannot see his older brother’s face in the gloom, and neither can his forgetful toy bear. On any given day, during each endless hour and restless night, the single candle they afford themselves silhouettes the pretence of confidence. It has become a circus puppet show they take turns to perform.

 ‘Not this morning.’

The brothers have learned a dance since scurrying into spaces between walls. Its soft step is a code taught by fragile shuffled-words. The music they these days follow flows from the space between such words, drawn from a well where meaning hides, face against stone. Ignaz has taught his bear the dance: quiet movements, hushed as mice, slow arcs and ponderous pirouettes. The bear is hopeless, so Egon says, which means Ignaz is charged with teaching the bear using a different method. The bear forgets the dance, and is often found weeping in fear. At such moments Ignaz holds the bear close, whispers in its ear songs of reassurance the boy himself does not recall, but improvises. It is hard to remember to be brave, after all, Egon says, so they must make allowances for bear.

 ‘What about this afternoon?’

 ‘Ignaz Frankl,’ Egon sighs, turning to his brother, fetching the candle to light them both. Tears have left Ignaz with a face of hieroglyphs, etched into anger, doubt. The bear is turned from the glare of candle: it is too bright, for bear.  The toy has forgotten what day looks like. ’Have I not said? The bad men will not come today.’

 ‘How can you tell?’

As in any sawdust circus, the boys can turn their hand to any skill: beyond puppetry and dance, they have learned to juggle fears, lion-tame the night. They are apprentice acrobats and aerialists, learning to be strongmen. Ignaz fetched their Mama’s lipstick and rouge into the dark between the walls, and he softened his features with her blessed powder-scents. Egon does not mention the clown-like beauty of such an innocent memorial, how it will last a whole life, far longer than any stone upon a grave.

 ‘A mouse knows these things. Eat your bread.’

There are times, both boys have found, when neither can tell if the other is speaking to a brother or rafter-shadows, to bear or to themselves, to the sound of the street below, to now or yesterday.

 ‘It’s stale.’

Ignaz, at first, would throw his thin sliced portions away, but now he holds on to each dry crumb as if for dear life. Egon would fetch each crust, drop it at Ignaz’s feet. The younger boy gave up rejection as a bad lot given his brother proved himself such an able retriever. Ignaz always fancied a dog  – when dogs, like a normal life, were permitted – but he supposes he will have to settle for Egon.

 ‘I’ll sneak out to find another loaf tonight. While you’re sleeping.’

 ‘When it’s safe? Will you come back?’

 ‘I know how to fool soldiers. Aren’t we always safe? Here, with bear?’

 ‘It’s boring.’ Ignaz nuzzles bear. Murmurs, ‘No offence.’

Bears, like brothers, are prone to effortless forgiveness.

 ‘It’s an adventure, just as Papa said,’ Egon says brightly in the dim.

The older boy rests his handkerchief against his lips, dabs what little spit he can muster, then cleans Ignaz’s dust-dashed face a little.

 ‘You’re hurting. I want Mama.’

 ‘She’s gone ahead, Ignaz.’

 ‘To Salzburg?’

 ‘To a place very much like Salzburg.’

 ‘Anywhere with good bread will do–’

 ‘There’s a whole world of fresh bread outside Vienna, Ignaz. Not everywhere is at war. Be sure to tell bear.’

 ‘Good. Will they remember where they put us?’ little Ignaz asks.

 ‘Which they do you mean? The bad they, or the good they?’

 ‘Any they, I suppose.’ He frowns, chews lip rather than bread. Feeds bear a crumb. He’s not hungry, either. ’Someone. Our family they, then, if I must settle.’

 ‘Mama and Papa won’t ever forget,’ Egon says, reaching out, in response to which, as ever, Ignaz pulls away. Egon smells cloyingly of dirt, not of strong arousing aftershave, like Papa, nor of stomach-curling warm perfume, like Mama.

 ‘You promise we’ll be safe until they’re home?’

 ‘They’ll return soon, Ignaz.’

 ‘Too many theys to keep track, I suppose. It’s difficult to know which they to trust.’

 ‘Not so hard, really,’ Egon says, and quietly performs his impersonation of a German officer, an Austrian Nazi, a betraying neighbour – bleating, frothing, speaking ill of everyone not them – until Ignaz is brave, and certain, and bear is bouncing with laughter. Ignaz holds tight his toy bear, tucks it into his shirt for warmth, to keep it quiet.

 ‘I’m guarding father’s cufflinks, too, just as you asked. Though he gave them to you–’

 ‘I trust you. And keep safe mother’s jewellery, like you promised.’

 ‘I will.’

Ignaz offers Egon his bread, but these days, his brother is, like bear, never hungry. ‘Tell me again, Egon. Will they remember us?’ little Ignaz wonders.


 ‘Only it seems very easy to forget.’

 ‘We’ll remember for everyone.’

And he tells Ignaz tall tales of glittering dance halls and cinnamon-smelling coffee shops, bright schools and luminescent parks, the fierce and beautiful animals in the elegant Zoo, and ice-cream tempering summer days, until tomorrow is perennially peaceful as a child’s yesterday.

When he is done, the older brother listens at the wall of their silent apartment. Five days gone. And soon it will be Shabbat. Though joy and rest will prove hard to come by. Life between the walls is an everlasting sunset. Were it not for the street noise, they’d know no sunrise, and bear would have no sense of when to rest. Egon senses somehow this time is a kind of premature birth – that he is pushing himself out from childhood toward becoming an adult. He has no choice in the matter.

 ‘Can you hear–’

 ‘What?’ Ignaz asks.

Egon tilts his head to locate the sound of someone trying impossibly to silently scratch a penknife into brick.

 ‘What are you writing?’

 ‘Nothing,’ Ignaz lies.

 ‘It’s wrong to damage–’

 ‘No-one will see my name inside the wall–’

 ‘But we’ll know.’

 ‘That’s the point. Otherwise, no-one will know we belong here.’

Do we belong in the wall?’

 ‘I mean Vienna,’ Ignaz says. ‘Hold bear, so he can help.’

Egon holds the candle high as little Ignaz writes.

Antony Osgood

Image by Marina Shatskih from Pixabay 

8 thoughts on “‘Will They Remember Us?’ Little Ignaz Wonders by Antony Osgood”

  1. Thank you for honoring the children who bear the brunt of war. Your beautifully written story is, as Leila pointed out, as relevant today as it was during WWII. Wars all over the planet today, but how are they “covered” on television? Who cares enough about the children to give them a voice? Thank you again for seeing the children of war and for writing “Will They Remember Us?”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Tony,
    I echo all that has already been said and add my own word, stunning!
    This is up there with your best my fine friend.


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